State governors said on Monday that despite their own local efforts to build a health information technology infrastructure, a lack of federal standards and little to no movement on legislation on Capitol Hill has created a roadblock that hinders further progress.
"We're doing these things in our states, but it won't be enough if Washington, D.C., sits this one out," said Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a co-chairman of the National Governor's Association's State Alliance for e-Health at a news conference held yesterday at the National Press Club. "It's no secret that the people of America are hungry to see positive results coming from both parties in our nation's capital. In terms of both politics and policy, health IT is low-hanging fruit."
Douglas joined two other governors and John Engler, the former Michigan governor who now is the president of the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, to press federal lawmakers to pass health IT legislation that has fallen dormant over the past two congressional sessions.
Studies have shown that the widespread adoption of electronic health records, e-prescribing and other existing technologies could cut healthcare costs by up to 30% while saving tens of thousands of lives each year. But while states have moved forward on their own health IT projects, a lack of federal standards could halt progress altogether, the governors' warned.
In Iowa, Gov. Chet Culver told reporters that his state created a public-private electronic health IT commission and recently pulled down $17 million in Federal Communications Commission grants to connect rural and urban hospitals across the Hawkeye State. "I believe the key to measuring quality and cost of service is to streamline the system and have a strong use of medical records," he said. But the state effort can only go so far, he added. "Health IT truly is a national issue, and leadership at the federal level is absolutely essential."
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, who helped create the West Virginia E-Health Initiative, said that it's hard to understand why the healthcare industry has moved so slowly while other industries, especially banking, have been quick to implement standard technology.
"It doesn't make any sense whatsoever that we haven't moved in this direction," Manchin said. "It's time for Congress to act and act now. We mean that. The amount of money and effort that we're putting forth right now could all be for not."
While several bills have been draftedand some approved by members of the House and Senatethere hasn't been a single, comprehensive bill that has been able to move to the White House. Engler warned yesterday that the clock is ticking.
"We believe that if Congress doesn't act soon, the window will be lost in 2008, and health IT will be overtaken by the various debates of the budget season and the priorities of a new administration," Engler said. "It could slip as much as a whole year. It could slip to 2010, that that's much too long."
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